Ben Henderson wasn't the man that fans expected to run through a veteran like Jim Miller on Sunday night at UFC on Versus 5 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In fact, most fans predicted a draw-out, grind 'em out victory for Miller and proof that Henderson was simply too inexperienced to succeed in the UFC's upper ranks. The opposite was proven, however, as Henderson completely dominated Miller, blasting through him and providing many fans, including myself, with a reminder that the WEC's best imports are no joke.
The performance received praise from BloodyElbow.com's own Brent Brookhouse, leading to the opinion that Henderson deserves the title shot after such an impressive performance:
The fact that Henderson (ranked #14 before the fight) was so impressive in his dominance means that he has as good of a case as anyone in the world to face the winner of the third fight between Maynard and Edgar for the lightweight championship.
The volatility of the lightweight division simply means that title shots should go to the hot fighter coming off big wins. Yes, Ben lost to Pettis three fights ago, but many seem to have forgotten that it was a very closely contested fight simply because Pettis landed an amazing kick in the final seconds. The Henderson we've seen in the UFC is a guy clearly deserving of a shot at the title. His size, strength, striking, grappling, incredible ability to survive bad positions and amazing cardio make for a combination unlike anyone else in the division.
It's difficult to disagree with Brent's logic here. "Hot" fighters are more than likely going to be rewarded for their efforts, and in a division that has seen multiple contenders fall by the wayside -- it makes the most logical sense that Henderson rides his dominant victory to the promise land.
There are alternatives to the argument, specifically the inclusion of Clay Guida and Melvin Guillard into the mix. Some fans are still wary to send Henderson into a bout with the winner of Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard, mainly due to Henderson's short stay in the UFC and the time needed to pump him up to the casual fanbase. Both Guida and Guillard have lengthy winning streaks and a reputation with fans. Henderson's allure is growing, but it isn't quite at that level yet.
The decision ultimately boils down to the debate between sport and entertainment. Guida, who is beloved by many fans as the freakish cardio machine who relentlessly smothers his opponents, isn't the most entertaining fighter in the discussion. Melvin Guillard possesses the ability to eviscerate his opponents in a split second, utilizing lightning quick footwork and much improved takedown defense to crush the opposition. The average casual fan would rather see a higher percentage for a knockout, and that's reality.
Henderson still takes the cake however. He's both exciting and highly-skilled, but the question is whether the UFC sees Guida or Guillard as the more marketable fighters in a showdown with the lightweight champion. I think they do.
The perfect solution is a #1 contender match-up between Ben Henderson and Clay Guida. It allows Henderson to showcase his skills against another upper-echelon lightweight, and it gives Henderson more exposure to casual fans who may not know of him or might not be completely convinced of his talents. Guida is a name that casual fans have watched for quite some time, and most fans know that he's as tough as they come in the division.
That should stretch the timeline out for the division to work out some kinks. Sean Sherk will be returning this fall, providing another warm body to pit against rising stars. Guillard will face Joe Lauzon at UFC 136. Gilbert Melendez will eventually face Jorge Masvidal in November or December, and it's a guarantee that he'll step into the UFC at some point early next year with an immediate shot at the title. If Henderson lays waste to Guida, it should set up a title showdown in December or January.